Revamp Heathrow’s Arrivals shops and drive off in a Mercedes

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

London Heathrow Airport should really charge me rent for the amount of time I spend there. Just imagine that as a new non-aeronautical revenue stream – making travellers who ‘overstay’ pay a concession fee! I can only begin to imagine my MAG (Moodie annual guarantee). I’m surprised, frankly, that no-one has thought of it before.

I’ve described Heathrow many times in this Blog as my second home but, heck, it’s practically my first. In fact, I’ve developed a really unfortunate habit of walking around without my belt and shoes, so much time do I spend taking them off. Heathrow has a lot to answer for.

Actually it doesn’t. I think it’s a great airport. Efficient, spectacular, architecturally stunning (T5 and T2), with some fine art and cultural installations (see below), and an excellent food & beverage offer. It also boasts a pretty diverse shopping line-up, including the consistently good World Duty Free offer (an important observation in terms of what comes later in this Blog), and three of my ‘World Top 10 Airport Shops’ –  the wonderful Heathrow T5 (Art) Gallery, Paul Smith and Smythson.

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[Every store should have one: Dixons Travel at Heathrow T5, which always, always, always get a dark green smiley face from me]

Terminal 5 also has what I consider the airport world’s most stunning advertising execution (below). It just makes me go ‘Wow’ every time.

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The security clearance is consistently good (most times I even press the smiley  face on the ‘How was your experience’ pad), the washrooms clean, baggage clearance quick and (generally) immigration better than most.

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[Ok this one’s from Luton Airport, but you get my point]

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But I have a bugbear. The World Duty Free Arrivals shops. I just don’t get them. Quite how Chanel so piously justifies a mass withdrawal from quality airlines such as Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, British Airways, Qatar Airways and many others on the basis of selective distribution and yet allows itself to be lumped in with the pretty basic offering in these stores is beyond me. Just who do they think their product is too good for – the airlines or the passengers? Or both?

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The stores feel like an afterthought. They are generally underwhelming and unwelcoming and the only real sales activity is being offered tickets for the Heathrow Express by train staff standing in the middle of the store.

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Most passengers seem determined to get through and out of the shops fast, aided and abetted by large overhanging ‘exit’ signs, which from a retail perspective is probably tempting fate.

Now I know these are technically duty paid shops. I know that the UK does not have a culture of buying on arrival. But why not create one? I took the short video below yesterday from outside the Heathrow T2 Arrivals store while waiting for my colleague Colleen Morgan and her daughter Lucy to arrive from Athens.

It was a peak time and in just one minute I saw scores of travellers hurtle through the store, determined to get to their homes or hotels. I saw one person at the cash till. I wonder what the penetration rate is? 100% footfall but I reckon penetration has got to be a very, very low single-digit number.

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I think the problem here is that the shops are effectively  World Duty Free-lite – a dumbed-down version of what’s done so much better in the departures shops. But do people have the same motivation when they arrive in a country? What would make them actually stop and buy? Certainly not Chanel by the looks of it.

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If I was World Duty Free I would say, “Let’s try something different. Heck, what have we got to lose?” I would put a small, bright bunch of innovative thinkers together with a mission to, say, double penetration and sales in the store. In fact I’d put a separate team into each of Heathrow’s terminals and create a contest.

Incentivise them. Make them think like entrepreneurs, like corner shop owners whose livelihoods are on the line if the business fails.

What would they come up with? What would Apple or Amazon come up with? What would you come up with? Best idea wins a ticket in the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise luxury car draw, courtesy of The Moodie Report. Wouldn’t you like a new Mercedes for Christmas?

[Send your suggestion/s to Martin@TheMoodieReport.com]

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